Do I Live in La-La Land


248-968-8072.This was my phone number. For years. It was the number that I learned when I was old enough to learn about phone numbers. It was the number I gave out to my friends to call me. It was the number I called when I was in camp and seminary, and I needed to hear my parents’ voices. It was the number I called after I got married just to say hello, to ask for a recipe or to shmuess. It was the number I continued to call after my mother became a widow, and it was the number I called to see how she was doing when she was sick.
After my mother died there was no reason to call that number anymore. There would be no family members of mine answering the phone. So you might think me a little nuts, but I called it anyway. Sometimes it was because I needed to talk to my mother so badly that I simply had to call, even though logically I knew it made no sense; even though it went straight to the operator, who informed me, “This number is not in service,” I talked anyway. “Hi, Ma. So I really needed to talk to you and tell you what happened today….” And that annoying operator talked straight through my conversations.
Sometimes I had to call to see if that number had been appropriated to someone else. Because that number belongs to my family. And woe to anyone who might claim that number as their own. I will call that person and harass them. I will tell them that this is really my number. I will explain to them that this number belongs to me and my family, and I will beg them to ask the phone company for a new number. Okay, honestly, I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. What would I really do? I would probably call my sisters, and we would be sad together.
As time goes on, I do call less and less. So it was rather surprising when the other day I had that urge to call my mother. I went to the phone and started dialing. 248-96 and my finger almost pressed the 7 not the 8! That would be the number to my aunt, to whom I speak frequently. I couldn’t believe it. Is her number becoming more familiar to me then my own old number? I always dialed it by rote. I didn’t really think about it. Has “my rote” changed? The thought was sharply painful for me.
Then my brain kicked in. I thought, “What is rote?” Rote is doing something over and over again without even thinking about it. It is okay if the number I dialed by rote had changed. It isn’t a significant action that must be done with thought. I had to re-orient myself for a minute to put things in the proper perspective.
On the other hand, there are many things that must be done with thought that can so easily become rote. Davening, saying berachos, the way I talk, following clothing trends…. But dialing a phone number can become habit or not. It’s not important.
While driving the other day, the song והערב נא began playing. Every time I hear it touches something in me. As a mother of boys, I have my hopes.
I want my children to grow up to be those perfect adults. Adept at handling all of life’s challenges. Proficient in halachah. Capable in whichever area they work. The kindest husbands and the perfect fathers. Of course, I hope that regardless of the path they take, they become talmidei chachamim, ehrliche Yidden, true ovdei Hashem and big yerei Shamayim. In a word, I want them to be perfect.
With yeshivah and school now starting, my dreams have been reawakened. What will this year bring? Will this year’s rebbi be a good match for my child? Will it go smoothly or will there be many challenges? Each child is so different. But will this be the year that each one will reach that level of absolute perfection?
Do I live in La-La Land?
I know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Even in my own children, perfection doesn’t exist. But how I hope that amongst the imperfections there will be ehrlichkeit, yiras Shamayim and ahavas Yisrael. Is there something that I can do to help make it happen? And can the answer please be an easy one?
The truth is, I don’t live in La-La Land. I know that there is no easy answer. The answer is about me, and it is truly a hard one. It is to teach by example. Live the way I want my children to be. Am I a good example? Is my life like dialing a deeply ingrained phone number? Do my days follow one another without much thought? Do I do everything out of habit, without any hislahavus?
We pass so much of who we are on to our children.
So I got thinking: “What have I learned from my parents and grandparents, and am I passing it down to my children?”
Some of the lessons that I learned from my father, and his father, are about staying on the straight and narrow path in all areas of halachah. I learned about honesty and integrity at all costs. I saw the importance of having a set time for learning and keeping to it, no matter what. I learned about having a close connection a rav or a rebbe.
And from my mother and her mother, I learned about tznius, vatranus and concern for others. I learned about the middah of giving and loving your family. And my mother showed us what chesed is. Quietly helping out others. I saw her working on her faith when facing crisis and remaining upbeat during challenging times.
There is a tapestry woven full of messages and morals for me. I have so many ways to make sure that I go through my day while being aware of what I am doing and making the day count.
Incorporating these lessons into my life on a daily basis will trickle down to my children. I know that this is what will help my children grow up to be, if not perfect people, true yirei Shamayim.

My Story

Hello, my name is Miriam Ribiat and I just would like to thank Chazak for giving me this opportunity to speak on their hotline.

I guess I would say that my story really is a lot about loss, a lot about loss and grieving and I’m not going to go into details about everything that I went through. I went through two big losses that left me with a lot of pain and a lot of sadness and the other two losses that I went through, I will talk more about. Those were my parents, my mother and my father, who both died young. I was married already. I did have some children, but they were both young and they both died for different reasons, but pretty close together when it happened.

There have been opportunities, although I don’t just go sharing my story with random people whenever I feel like it, there were different opportunities that came up that I felt the need to share what happened and when I’d share everything that I went through with details and everything, the response I get is like “Wow! That’s huge and so heavy. How do you go on? How do you do it? How do you be happy? Whoa! How do you do it?”

I guess whenever someone is in a situation, it’s always hard to see how big the situation really is. Sometimes I forget that my story is so big and that people are going to have this response, but what I would really like to do is not to look at it this is so hard and I have such a sad life with so many challenges, but rather to recognize that I’ve definitely been given an opportunity through my challenges to grow and to make changes. These changes have definitely left me feeling better about myself and they have definitely brought me to a place of more contentment and calmness inside of me and of course a very big change that I made was my connection to Hashem. I think like most people, I always wanted a better connection, a stronger connection and I wanted to feel more connected, but I never knew how to really get that connection. When I went through these really challenging times, I was forced to really look at things in a different way and I was forced to really learn how to make a connection with Hashem that I so badly wanted. So although my story might be a big story and it might be a story with a lot of pain and a lot suffering and a lot of challenges, I’d rather really look at it like I have gone through challenges, everyone goes through challenges, no one today is spared any challenges, but I’m grateful for being given the opportunity to make the changes that I made, even though I would never ask for a replay of anything. I definitely could recognize the good that came out of it for me.

There were a number of times when people made comments to me and they said, “You should for sure speak on Chazak.” I always kind of felt like why would I speak on Chazak? So I’ll go on Chazak and I’ll share this story and I’ll be sad and I’ll make people be sad. And then what? How is that going to be mechazek people? It’s really not for me. Let other people that have more what to offer speak. I’ll do the listening. I’m not a speaker type.

Then a couple of months ago through my work I put together a book. It’s called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s like a support group handbook that I guess I’ll talk more about later on, but it took quite some time to put together and after it came out, there was a number of people who looked through it and they gave us really positive feedback. One day I was thinking about it and I said there’s no way in the world that I could have put together this book if not for the things that I went through, the challenges that I went through and the work that I had to do because of it definitely made me be able to sit down and put this whole thing together. That’s when I realized that maybe I do have what to offer and if I could be mechazek in any way, then I guess it’s something that I’m willing to do and I really hope that you could walk away with some chizuk from this and to be an aliyas neshamah for my parents.

I’ll start off with my mother. My mother had this thing that she hated doctors. She was petrified of doctors and she would do anything at all costs to stay away from the doctor, herself or any of her children. So normally our relationship was very much we kind of all knew what’s going on in everyone’s life and we’re not a secret kind of family, but when my mother one day felt a lump, she kept it a huge secret. I guess she told my father but she definitely didn’t tell any of her children. She did call up to make an appointment to see the doctor, but when they said to her, “Oh is this is an emergency?” She said, “No it’s fine. I could wait.” They gave her an appointment for three months later.

So for three months she was holding onto this secret that she might have cancer but she never shared a word with anyone. So when she called me up one day out of the blue to tell me that she just came back from the doctor and that she had cancer, it was very, very shocking for us. It was shocking. It was scary and of course it was very, very, very devastating. She started the treatments and there were definitely ups and downs. So I guess I would say it was a few years of feeling the tension and the fear and kind of waiting for the next scan and once she had the scan, waiting to get the results and either being relieved or worried when we did get the results and that was kind of the way life was.

Then one day my parents came into Lakewood. They lived out of town. I’m from Detroit and my parents came in to a chasunah in Lakewood, a cousin’s wedding. It was shortly after the chassan and kallah came in for the first dance and the music is playing and everyone is dancing and suddenly someone comes to the microphone and says, “Is there a doctor in the house?” It seemed like there was a man or a boy or someone from the men’s side that had blocked out and they needed someone. It didn’t sound like anything major. Like okay, someone blocked out. It happens and he’ll be okay but they need a doctor or Hatzalah or whatever it is.

But after a short while, even though the music continued and everyone was dancing, it seemed like maybe this isn’t just a typical case of someone blacking out and he’ll be okay tomorrow morning. It was more like the men started saying Tehillim. It was getting a little scary. And then the ladies starting saying Tehillim. At that point I went to the mechitzah and I was standing by the mechitzah looking to get a glimpse of my father. I just needed to get a glimpse of him. I just needed to know that whatever happened, whoever it happened to, they should be okay, they should have a refuah sheleimah, but it’s not my father. And I’m looking and I’m looking and I can’t see him. Then I see Hatzalah is taking a person out in a stretcher and I’m like okay my father didn’t have a beard, let me see if this man has a beard and then I’ll know that it’s not my father. And the person didn’t have a beard. And then suddenly I think we realized it was my father. It was just that sixth sense just kind of came right in and my mother ran to the men’s section to my uncle who was the chassan’s father and asked if this was my father that this happened to and he said yes.

We ran out to Hatzalah and Hatzalah was working on him and they were working on him for a while and my mother kept on saying it’s not good. They can’t even get him stable enough to go to the hospital. This isn’t good. Then we got to the hospital finally and after a few minutes, I don’t know however long it was, they come out, the Hatzalah guys or whoever came out and said they’re doing everything that they possibly could and again my mother said this isn’t good. They say this to prepare you for the worst. And sure enough shortly afterwards they came and they said they did everything that they could but they couldn’t save him. And my father was niftar.

My father was young. My father was healthy. He had just had an appointment by a cardiologist maybe two to three weeks before. He had a clean bill of health so of course it was completely shocking to us and completely devastating to us. Sitting shivah was so difficult because it didn’t make sense. I guess any shivah is difficult, but this didn’t make sense. Walking around the house, my father was so alive. This happened shortly after Pesach. Look the Pesach counters were downstairs but they weren’t put away yet in the actual Pesach box because they were waiting for my father. My father is going to put it away. Look at my father’s desk. Do you see there’s his wallet with his license and his social security card. This is a person that’s fine. This is a person that’s alive and here. It doesn’t make sense that he’s not alive anymore. The same thing with the Shabbos clocks. The lights are turning on and off on the timers that my father had set so what do you mean that my father is not alive? It was so hard to really grasp it and to really understand it.

Also it was hard because my mother was very private when it came to her sickness. She didn’t want anyone to know so very few people knew that she was sick so although I had wonderful friends and cousins and all types of people that came to be menachem aveil me and I could talk about my father and I could talk about his many special qualities and what a special relationship we had and how much I’m going to miss him, but I had another very heavy cloud of fear hanging over me and that was my mother. I couldn’t say anything about my mother. That definitely made it a little bit more difficult.

She was a tremendous pusher and she went to work until the very end and she did what she had to do and she hosted everyone for Yom Tov and never gave in or gave up, I should say, but it was hard to see that she was getting sicker and sicker. Then miraculously she got better, well not better better but she got better enough that she was able to resume her schedule and continue chemo and continue work.

One thing that we said after my father was niftar was that maybe what he couldn’t do down here for my mother, he could do up there, maybe he could really be a meilitz yosher for my mother. He could go to the kisei hakavod and just beg Hashem that my mother should have a refuah sheleimah. But unfortunately it wasn’t too much after my father was niftar that my mother was also niftar.

Now, looking back I could realize that my mother, she was extremely private. She did not want anyone to know that she was sick. She was so afraid of pity. Pity was like the worst possible thing to her that she couldn’t let anyone know. So it was kept very, very quiet and I would even joke sometimes if she would find out that someone found out that she was sick, she would be so upset it was almost like more upset than on a day that she got back a bad result. It was just the worst thing in the world for her.

So we kept it very quiet. I was used to just kind of like don’t pay attention to my feelings. I’m feeling afraid. I’m feeling anxious because I’m waiting for the results. I’m sad because of the latest results. I’m nervous. I don’t know what’s going to be. Well yeah I could talk to my own family about it, I could talk to my sisters about it even my mother a little bit, but no one else. Basically, just shove it aside and keep on going.

So when everyone died, I really didn’t know how to grieve because I’m used to we don’t feel our feelings. We just have to go on. We can’t let people pity us. Imagine that I call up a friend and I tell her how sad I am and maybe I even start crying, she might give me pity. There’s no way. There’s no way I’m doing that. So I didn’t really know at all about properly grieving. After my father died, I was able to concentrate on my mother. I had what to focus on, but after my mother, there’s no one sick to focus on.

Now in the beginning it didn’t matter so much because I was very, very busy. I had little children b’li ayin hara, I was working a lot of hours, my husband was not around much so I was really basically on my own mostly so I was so busy it was really easy to keep on going. Some people made comments “I don’t know how you go on”. “I don’t know how you still laugh”. And I was like I don’t know. This is what we do. I mean we’re mothers, we’re busy and we just have to do it. Are my laughs always so real? No. There’s pain under there but this is just what we do. This is just how we go.

One night I had a chasunah, my cousin’s wedding. It must have been about a little bit after a year after my mother was niftar. It must have been shortly after my mother’s first yahrtzeit. I had a wedding. It was my cousin’s wedding. I was feeling very sad because it was a very close cousin and my parents definitely would have been at this wedding. I was feeling sad. I went to this wedding and I was feeling a lot of pain.

When I got to the wedding, I was feeling that pain. I’m looking around and I’m seeing all my aunts and uncles and everyone that’s there and very much noticing how my parents aren’t there. Then I noticed something else. My cousins and their whole families are there. Unless someone lived out of town or whatever it was, but all the siblings were there so it hurt me so much. I have two sisters bli ayin hara left so they were at the wedding and I was able to express my pain to them a little bit and I was grateful that they were there but those that weren’t. It was so clear to me who wasn’t there and it hurt.

And then I was talking to a distant cousin, a distant relative and she said to me, “Oh so where do you live? You live in Lakewood. Where in Lakewood?” And I told where I live and the development that I live in and that my other sister also lives in this development and it’s so nice that we’re both next to each other. “And your other sister?” And I said my other sister lives in Far Rockaway and then I was quiet. The end of the conversation. There’s no one else to talk about in my family.

Again this left me with a lot of pain but I’m at a wedding so smile and be happy, dance, do whatever you do at weddings, but don’t sit and mope. Don’t sit and be sad. So I did whatever I had to do.

That night in the middle of the night I woke up and I guess what I was having was a mild panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t call Hatzalah or anything, but I was just like ahh this is very, very uncomfortable. It lasted for quite a while and eventually I don’t know if it stopped and I fell asleep or I fell asleep and it stopped, but eventually I did fall back asleep and the next day or two days later, whatever it was, I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling her what happened.

Now this friend is not a therapist but I always tell her that she should be. She happens to be very, very good with this type of stuff.

So we were talking about what happened and she said to me, “One second Miriam. You went to this chasunah. Did you tell anyone that you’re going and that it’s hard for you?” I said, “No I don’t think so. Why would I tell anyone?” “And what about at the chasunah, you were faced with all these painful situations, Did you speak to anyone at the chasunah? Did you call anyone afterwards? Anything? Did you share your feelings and what’s going on for you?” I said, “No. Why would I?” She said to me, “You’re denying all your emotions and the body is not okay with that. It’s going to make you feel and if you insist on ignoring it and not paying attention to what’s going on inside of you, then your brain is going to make sure that you have to face it. So if you don’t face it, either you could start getting sick a lot, something will start hurting you or in your case, you’ll start having a hard time breathing.”

At first I wanted to say, “Oh come on. That’s so ridiculous. I’m not into this whole mind body connection thing and it makes no sense,” but what I started seeing was that it was really true. I saw how it was so clearly direct. It was so directly related. I remember talking to a friend, “Since yesterday afternoon I can’t breathe again. It’s so uncomfortable.” And she said to me, “Well, what’s going on your life?” I said nothing really and then I started telling her about a neighbor that had a very traumatic situation with a child that brought up all my trauma from my family. I think I was nervous about something with my child. I think there were a few things that really weren’t nothing. And she pointed out to me all these things are big things. Not one of them is just a nothing. I realized I’m doing it again. Either I pretend that everything is fine and I won’t listen to my feelings or I’ll deny it, I’m good at minimizing all the feelings also like I shouldn’t be sad. It doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t know what my problem is. But I saw how I would be so affected from not facing what’s going on inside of me. I had to really start facing it.

So what I had to do, is besides acknowledged that this is how I’m feeling, I had to really speak it out with people also. One of the reasons that I had to speak it out with people is because sometimes I think that I’m really feeling one way and really what’s bothering me is something that’s completely different. An example would be like I could call up a friend and say, “Uch. I’m so annoyed. I asked my husband to come home early to help me out. I’m not feeling good. I’m so busy. I have so much going on. I just needed his help and of course he didn’t come home. Why couldn’t he come home?”

But in talking it out, I might realize that of course my husband is not coming home. I knew he wouldn’t come home. He can’t come home. He doesn’t have that choice to just come home because I want his help today, but what I’m really feeling is the loneliness. I’m not feeling good and my mother, although she lived out of town, she wouldn’t be able to really physically help me, she would call me up. She would want to know how I’m feeling and she would tell me to take Tylenol or ask me if I had time to lay down, whatever it would be. And I missed that motherly connection and that motherly love and concern and I wanted it. And I’m not feeling angry at my husband but really I’m just feeling lonely and sad and missing my mother. So it’s important for me to really talk it out to understand what I’m feeling.

Now of course there are different types of people. There are people that I will not talk it out with because they’re not people that would make me feel comfortable. I have to find those people that are the right people for me. I have someone in my life that although she’s very sweet, she would give me pity like from here to the sky. “Oy Miriam, I feel so bad for you. It must be hard. Nebach.” Okay I’m not talking to her. That’s not what I need to hear.

I know someone else that whatever I tell her, whatever topic, whatever time of day or whenever it’ll be, it’s going to always turn into all about her. So when I’m in a lot of pain because I went through a lot and this person really didn’t go through what I went through and she starts telling me all about her and what’s going on in her life, nope not for me. It’s not someone I’m going to open up to. If there’s someone that makes everything into a joke or someone that really just can’t get it and will just say “come on, it’s time to snap out of it already. It’s been long enough.” Then these are people that I’m also not going to speak to. But I had to find myself a few, whether it’s friends or cousins or aunts or sisters, a few people whom I could really feel comfortable talking to and explaining to them what’s going on for me so that I could feel better and not get these breathing attacks.

After a while, I said to myself, “Okay so here I am working so hard on being in touch with myself, but how is this avodas Hashem”? I understand you go through a lot, and people could say I started working on better davening and better connecting to Hashem, I started working on shmiras Shabbos and lashon hara, whatever it is, there are plenty of things to work on, but guess what? I went through a lot and I started working on feeling my emotions. It didn’t seem like it’s really avodas Hashem. So I had to again talk it out and figure out is what I’m doing ratzon Hashem and why.

I realized a few things. Number one is that Hashem gave us emotions and if Hashem gave it to us, it’s something that we need. It’s a necessary part of us. And just like I want my eyes and I’m grateful that my eyes see and that my ears hear, and my nose smells and my feet walk, baruch Hashem, I need my emotions also. I’m not going to say to Hashem, “Oh, Hashem my eyes. It’s great. Thank you for giving me my eyes, but the emotions? No thanks. I don’t need that.” I can’t really say that. I can’t tell Hashem, “You made a mistake. The eyes and the ears are good. The joints are all good and I’m glad that you gave that to us but the emotions? That’s not needed.” Obviously, that’s not the right way to go about this. If Hashem gave it to me, then that means that He gave it to me for a reason and I have to be aware of them and not just send them away.

I realized also that when I’m not in touch with myself and I don’t know what’s going on inside of me, I’m much more short tempered. I’m putting so much energy in making sure that I don’t feel the pain that I become very short-tempered. I could walk into my son’s room and I asked him to clean up his room or told him rather and it’s still a huge mess and I’ll say, “This is what you call clean? I mean there are socks and there’re shoes all over the floor. What about books and pajamas. Why is that called clean? Can’t you see? Don’t you see the floor is covered in all types of things? Why do you think this is clean?” But if I’m in touch with myself and I’m not all on edge and short tempered and jittery, then I could walk in and I could say, “Oy, the floor had lots of things on it. It’s really not cleaned up yet. Please clean it up”, which is of course a much nicer way of talking. It makes the atmosphere in the house much nicer and it’s the type of mother that I’d much rather be.

With people outside the home, I’ll become very judgmental. It’s so much easier to look at other people than look at myself. So instead I could say, “Oy. How did she say such a thing? That’s an awful thing to say.” “She’s wearing that? Doesn’t she realize that it’s so not tznius? What’s she thinking.” “Oy, so and so. She made a decision. It’s really going to affect her family very negatively. I don’t know why she’s doing that.” But if I’m in touch with myself, I know what’s going on for me, what other people do and say is not my concern. I don’t have to focus on that. If someone asks me my opinion, my advice, I could help them do something but I’m not going to judge them for it because it’s not my business and I don’t need to judge them for it. So right there I recognized how this is avodas Hashem. It makes my ahavas Yisrael all around much better when I’m in touch with myself.

In addition, when I face my feelings, then it makes my connection to Hashem so much better because I’ll come to Hashem with it. “Hashem, I’m feeling so sad today. I’m in so much pain. Please could You help me with this pain? Could You take away the sadness and replace it with joy? Could You help me out with the loneliness?” I don’t even have to ask Him to take it away. I could just tell it to Him and that could make me feel better. “Hashem, I’m really feeling this pain today. I’m really having a hard day with getting through my day. I’m having such a hard time with focusing on my kids or making a potato kugel because I’m just having so much pain today.” I could just bring it to Hashem and it makes my connection to Hashem that much stronger.

Once I take that step and I bring it and I talk to Hashem about it, then I could figure out what’s the next step that I have to take. And I realized that I have from my siblings and my parents a beautiful, beautiful legacy to pass down to my children. Why can’t I share it with them? That will definitely be very connecting. If I tell them, boys, (I have mostly boys), “Boys, I’m feeling so sad today and so lonely because I’m missing my father, but do you know what kind of person my father was? My father was such a family man. His family values were so strong. Not everyone has such strong values. It was so important and it was so special.” What about my mother? I could tell my children about Bubby and how she did so many Hashem but she didn’t even realize that she was doing it. Somebody needs help. It only takes an extra few minutes. What’s the big deal? She was constantly doing things for people. Some of the things were bigger, some of the things were smaller, but she was just always out there for people.

Now of course talking about these things to my children, it’s not going to take out the pain. The pain will still be there, but I’m talking about these people. I’m passing down their lessons to my children and I’m connecting with my children. And of course this is going to be something that’s going to make me feel much better.

Someone said to me, she summed it up in one sentence and I thought it was a very smart sentence. She said to me that really our emotions are vessels for us to connect to ourselves, to others and to Hashem, and I see that when I do connect to myself, to others and to Hashem, how much of a better person I am. I could really be a better eved Hashem. There’s more joy in my life. There’s more happiness. There’s more calmness. There’s no looking at other people. I realized that yes this is definitely part of my avodas Hashem.

Now I might sound like wow! I mastered this skill. I could talk to people about what’s going on for me, no problem. I face my emotions. I deal with it. It’s far from the truth and I think that’s one of the reasons I chose this particular topic to talk on, because the more I talk about it, the more I work on it, and hopefully the better I’ll become.

Just recently I had a yahrtzeit for my father and I lit that yahrtzeit licht and pretended that it just wasn’t his yahrtzeit. I didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it and even my own children. My boys are teenagers now and they’ll see the candle. “Oh, it’s Zeidy’s yahrtzeit. We should learn mishnayos.” And I’ll say yes but I’m doing my parents and my siblings such a disservice by not coming forth to my kids. “Today is so and so’s yahrtzeit. Do you know his or her name? Please let’s make sure to learn mishnayos. Let’s make sure to make this a good day for the neshamah. Let’s really give it an aliyah.” I want to show them the importance of this, but it’s just so painful for me. I can’t even talk about it. So it’s definitely something I still have a lot of work to do.

I told you why I spoke about this particular topic. Really there are so many other areas in life that I had to work on. I had to work on better connecting to Hashem. I realized that I thought I was much more in control of situations that I was in and I had to realize that I have no control, but I’m really powerless over most situations. But Hashemis in control so let me turn to Him. I had to understand more about Olam Haba, like what happens to the neshamah? What is a yahrtzeit all about? What’s yizkor all about?

Yizkor was something that I had a very hard time with because I always remember my parents. I have to go to shul a couple of times a year to remember them? That’s funny. That’s what I’m always talking about or thinking about them and remembering them. What does it mean to be a meilitz yosher? People say it but what’s it really mean? I had to really work on my understanding of all these concepts a lot better.

I guess also another thing that’s connected to sharing my feelings with people was also learning how to accept people’s empathy. Not pity but empathy. People want to care and it’s okay for me to let people care. That’s something that I had to work on very, very much. These are really many different things that I worked on and that I could talk about, but I guess not now.

Maybe it was two years, two and a half years, I’m not even sure. It was two or three years probably after my mother was niftar and I started working for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah is an organization that started off for people that either didn’t have the time or the ability to learn mishnayos or gemara, but they had a yahrtzeit or a shloshim for someone in the family. They would come to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah. Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah has yungeleit that are sitting and learning and they would learn the mishnayos or the gemara, whatever it would be that the family member wanted. Then we also branched out to Better Than a Segulah, which is a similar thing where we have people sitting and learning as a zechus for people that need a yeshuah for something.

But one thing that we realized was that people, when they’re going through a death or when they went through a death of a close family member, they don’t know what to do with themselves. There’s not enough guidance out there and it’s a very confusing time. It’s a painful time and so many questions come up. If I’m in so much pain, does that mean that I don’t believe in Hashem? But why is it still hurting and it’s already two years later? I cried so much. Does that mean I’m depressed? I have to go get a medicine? There are so many questions that come up and so many different things that people grapple with.

So when I joined, one of the things that I started doing was writing for Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and I would write about my own experiences. I wrote about Yom Tov, having Yom Tov without my parents, making a bar mitzvah. My first bar mitzvah after my mother died was very, very painful. But when I made my second bar mitzvah, I thought it won’t be so painful because this is how I’m used to doing it and yet the pain came up so strong, maybe even stronger, like again I’m making a bar mitzvah and my parents aren’t here. This just seems wrong. I wrote about having a niece or a nephew named after a person that was niftar, named after my parents or my siblings and all the pain that that brought up. So there’s so many things that go on in my daily life that bring up pain.

I would write every couple of weeks or so. I would post something and eventually we took it and we made it into this book called Comfort, Courage and Clarity. It’s made for adults that lost parents and it’s written in the format of a support group. The beginning of the book says how to run a support group and the actual format of a support group when a support group gets together, how do you begin, what do you say and what do you do and who says what and whatever it is so this way we figured if there’s someone that went through this loss and they need support and there isn’t enough support in their town or community then they could start their own support group if they feel like they have the ability because it’s all here. Then it’s divided into twelve different sections and under each section, it has a few different writings. A lot of it is mine. I worked together with someone else, Mrs. Ruchy Rosenfeld and then we gathered a lot of articles from past publications over the past many years. The topics are exactly like that, like celebrating Yom Tov without our parents and making a simchah and finding the hope and finding the joy. These are some of the topics that are in the book.

After each reading, there’s question that are very self-introspective. When a person sits down and really is able to honestly answer the questions, it makes them learn about themselves. It makes them realize some things that maybe they didn’t realize before and it came out and baruch Hashem we have gotten very positive feedback from it.

After it was out for a while and we got the feedback, I said okay, one second. I was only able to write the articles that I wrote and I was only able to write those self-introspective questions because this is work that I did. Almost all these questions, I think there was one time that I said, “Hmm I don’t know if I could answer that question.” But really all the questions I’m able to answer and that’s because I did a lot of work on myself. When someone said, “Hmm I think you should speak on Chazak” pretty recently someone said that to me. I said okay. Maybe I really do have what to offer. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking that I really never worked on myself and I don’t know what to say. That is what made me come and speak on this hotline today.

I hope though that it was helpful to at least some people. I hope that it’s able to be mechazek some people and if anyone is able to gain any chizuk from this and able to make any changes because of this, then it should be an aliyas neshamah for my parents and my siblings and we should have no more suffering in Klal Yisrael and only simchos. Thank you so much.

A Mother’s Tefillah

To My Twins,
I walked into your room this morning and saw your bar mitzvah corner – your tefillin bags, your new shirts and cufflinks. Everything all piled up waiting for the big day. I found myself smiling as I opened up the curtains to let in the sunshine that entered my heart and to keep the smile on my face as I walked out of the room.
I can’t understand how thirteen years have flown by. I remember staring in awe at two of the exact same babies lying side by side. I just looked at you and couldn’t believe you were mine. I felt your soft skin, smelled your baby smell, and I was in baby-bliss land. I thought I wanted you to stay newborns forever. But as you developed and became these cute infants I was certain that that was the perfect stage. Then you turned into toddlers who were always on the run with identical curls bouncing up and down, and I was sure that there was nothing cuter in this world.
After your upsherins, you continued to bring me such joy. When the older boys became bar mitzvah, I knew that yours weren’t too far off. But somehow, I couldn’t imagine that it was really going to happen.
I feel grateful. Because I know that B’ezras Hashem you are growing up and reaching milestones that all parents want for their children. And no, I can’t go back in time to those newborn days, and I couldn’t bottle up your cute giggles and creative ideas. But I can look ahead to a bright future that, with Hashem’s help, you will have. As you reach this milestone, it should be the first of many until 120.
My Bubby (your Great-Bubby)’s family was blessed with arichas yamim. I remember when Bubby’s mother was niftar. I couldn’t understand why it was so sad. She was well into her nineties. And she left behind nine children whom I thought were already all so old. As the years went by, Bubby’s siblings did start to reach old age, and they began to pass away. Each time a void was felt. The age didn’t matter.
Now Bubby is sitting shivah two weeks in a row. She lost one brother, and as soon as shivah was over, another brother passed away. That means that now six of her siblings have been niftar. I know that that each one was a marvelous person who lived a long life and left behind families of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.I feel Bubby’s pain at the loss of six siblings.
And then I started thinking. I thought about those two brothers who were niftar. And I realize that once upon a time, a very long time ago, these were young boys standing at the cusp of their bar mitzvahs. I don’t know how big their celebrations were. But I am sure the simchah was huge. I know that as they entered into adulthood, their parents davened to Hashem that these boys should grow up to be ehrliche Yidden and go b’derech haTorah. And although these young children were raised in America during the early 1900s, the prayers of their parents were answered. They married frum girls and raised wonderful families.
Their progeny certainly testifies to their gadlus.
So Moishy and Dovi, as you stand at the cusp of your bar mitzvah, I am thinking of Bubby’s family. I know that your kiddush will be bigger and fancier than a 1920’s celebration. But a mother’s tefillos remain the same. You should grow up B’ezras Hashem to go b’derech haTorah. There will be good times amidst the challenges life sends our way. There will be trying times interwoven with happy times. But I hope that my tefillos will reach Hashem, and you will be zoche to continue on a Torah path until 120.

Finding My Wings

I hate bugs. I don’t know what it is about bugs, but they can send me into a frenzy. Maybe an ant I can handle; anything bigger or anything that flies? Forget it! As soon as I see them you’ll catch me scurrying away.
But there is a well-known number in my house: 800-LIVE-BUG. Have you ever heard of it? You can order all types of live creatures and watch them in their natural habitats. As a mother of insect-loving boys, I have put aside my fears and my feelings of disgust and let these creepy crawlers into my home. We have watched ants make anthills and ladybugs go through the cycles of growth. But I have found that the most fascinating bug cycle to watch is that of caterpillars becoming butterflies.
The really ugly-looking caterpillar arrives in a clear container and spends a week eating this brown goo. It then crawls to the top of the container and spins a chrysalis. And we watch. We watch as it doesn’t move for days. It actually seems dead – until one day everything starts to change. We can actually see wings through the chrysalis. And after another day or two, the creature starts pushing its way through. It isn’t easy work. We watch as it really struggles, sometimes literally bleeding from the effort. When it finally emerges, its wings are shriveled and fatigue overtakes it. The brand-new butterfly must rest from all its hard work. But after a short amount of time, the wings open up and are transformed with beautiful colors, and the butterfly starts flying around. It is hard to believe that that really ugly-looking creepy caterpillar was the same bug as this pretty insect (that’s not to say I won’t panic if it becomes loose and flies around my house!).
As the process was taking place not long ago on my kitchen counter, I wondered, Am I a butterfly? Actually, aren’t we all butterflies? Recently I spoke on the Chazak Hotline. I started off saying that a number of times I was told, “Oh you should speak on the Chazak Line.” And I thought to myself I know I have a big story. But I don’t know that I have anything to share. Have I really made changes? Have I really worked on myself? Am I a better person because of my many challenges? I don’t know. Let others speak. I don’t think I have what to offer.
Recently, I put together a book called Comfort, Courage, and Clarity, which is geared for adults who have lost a parent. There are twelve topics ranging from “Acceptance” to “Celebrating Simchos” to “Finding Hope.” It is a compilation of writings – some are mine and many are taken from other authors and publications. At the end of each article, I put in a bunch of introspective questions that aim to foster growth in a person.
One day after it was published I was hit with a realization. I couldn’t have done this if I hadn’t made changes myself. I think I can answer every one of those questions. And that is only because I was forced to look into myself and to make changes. So when it was suggested again that I speak I accepted.
As I watched the butterflies emerge I realized that we are all butterflies because no one goes through life without struggles. And most people become better because of their struggles. I don’t know what each person is struggling with or what they are doing to better themselves. But I do believe that as we struggle, we are learning how to spread our wings, become better people and reach the heights that Hashem wants from us.
So, am I a butterfly or a butterfly wannabe?
I think both. I hope like that struggling butterfly, my struggles have forced me to change for the better. But I still have more changes to make. Unlike a butterfly that has reached its peak of prettiness once its struggle is complete, I have to continue struggling to make changes that will beautify me even more.
So maybe I am a butterfly but also a butterfly wannabe.

When the Journey Can Be the Reward

I have traveled many roads. Some were straight and easy, while others were dark and winding. Some of the roads led deep underwater into long eerie tunnels, while others were narrow and mountainous, so that I feared that one wrong step would lead me over a cliff.
If I would have a choice I would only choose to travel roads that are straight, with bright sunlight lighting up the way and beautiful scenery to enjoy as I coast along. But who is given a choice? In this life, we don’t get to choose which roads we have to travel.
As I once slid into the driver’s seat of my van, my son commented on his desire to drive. “It’s so much fun to drive. It means you’re in full control – like you’re the master, and the car is the servant,” he told me.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, Really? Do we ever have full control? Oh no. The roads we travel on aren’t the ones that we choose, but rather the highways and byways Hashem has chosen for us. The only choice that we have is how we will deal with the roadblocks we bump into on these windy, dark, narrow and mountainous roads.
In Pirkei Avos, פרק א’:פסוק ג’we are told, “אנטיגנוס איש סוכו…אומר: אל תהיו כעבדים המשמשין…לקבל פרס” – Don’t be like servants who work only to get reward. But that seems so impossible. I should work and work on doing all the mitzvos and doing them with the right intentions and never get a reward? I am not a car, which my son says is like a servant. I am a real person with thoughts and feeling, desires and wishes. As Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld says, “If I am doing and doing and never getting anything in return, then the whole relationship seems meaningless. It feels like a master-slave relationship. And if Hashem is giving me all these challenging roads to travel with seemingly insurmountable roadblocks and without a thought of reward, then how can I continue onward?
Author and educator Rabbi Yaakov Astor explains that time moves slowly when you’re expecting, waiting, pushing for something to happen – and it’s not happening. But when you’re focused on the process – accepting that what is happening is the way things are supposed to unfold, then the result doesn’t matter.
I remember a difficult road I had to travel when I was in high school. I was chosen to head a big project. I was excited and felt honored to be the chosen candidate. However, the other girl that was chosen to work with me had social issues. It was really difficult to work with her. The whole project wasn’t working out the way I had hoped it would. I felt incompetent – like a failure. I also felt stuck. I am doing this with someone who is incapable, therefore it is a disaster, and I can’t fix it.
I could have become angry at the hanhalah for doing this to me. I could have judged and criticized this girl for her wayward thinking and odd behaviors. But I recognized that that would keep me on a dark road of anger and resentment, devoid of any shining sun and beautiful scenery.
If Hashem placed me in this situation, which required me to work with this girl, then perhaps He wanted something from me. I had to learn how to explain things over and over again with patience. I had to learn tolerance for her emotional incapacities. And I had to learn to let go of the outcome. Perhaps that year Hashem didn’t want this project to be a smashing success. But He wanted me to work on my middos.
This is one of the deeper things אנטיגנוס comes to teach us. Do good without expectation of reward: when focusing on the process – which for me was working with this girl and making sure she didn’t feel put down because of her deficiencies even if the desired results wouldn’t follow – the right frame of mind that one comes to when working for pure motives becomes its own reward.
My roads may be winding and twisty. They can be dark and scary, with roadblocks of all kinds. Bur I ask Hashem to please help me to be like the servant who wants to serve Him in order to go through the process of bettering myself.
After all, what do I know about what’s really best for me? But doing His Will will undoubtedly bring me to bright and airy roads.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

My Father

לעילוי נשמת אליהו בן שמואל יעקב
כ”ט ניסן תשס”ט

Remembering My Father
My father was a real family man. He loved when yom tov came around and his married children overran his home. The madness of everyone squished together gave him only pleasure. He especially loved giving each and every one of his children and grandchildren a berachah on Friday night. Each son-in-law became a son, and each child was a precious gem.
My father was a working man. He had a store and put many hours into his work. He was also a man who always had a joke to share. Wherever he went, whomever he spoke to, he always had something funny to say. He wasn’t a great rav or a rebbi. He wasn’t a rosh yeshivah or a rosh kollel. He wasn’t a big askan or a big leader. Yet, he could never be called simple. He wasn’t just a balabus. He was a simple person on the outside, and a person full of tochen on the inside. He was someone who constantly worked on himself and grew closer and closer to Hashem as a result. When a nisayon came his way, he took it and grew from it. He changed himself because of it. We could never praise him when we saw something great in him. He was too humble. He didn’t think there was anything to talk about and loathed the praise. He didn’t need people to see his growth. Everything about him was very low-key.
At one point when he was unemployed he spent his mornings learning. He loved finally having the time to do this and was hoping to finish all of Shas. Although he could have chosen to do this in a shul or bais medrash, he chose to learn at home. No one had to know that he spent all

of his time learning.
How typical of him to be niftar in Nissan when we couldn’t say hespedim. There was so much to say, but it all had to be toned down. But my father had a zechus that most niftarim don’t have. A few minutes after he was niftar, Radio Kol Berama in Lakewood played a speech by Rabbi Peysach Krohn; in his talk, he shared some divrei Torah from my father, as countless people tuned in. Could it be he was zoche to such a thing because of the high madreigah he was on? As R’ Dovid Goldberg, the Rosh Yeshiva from Telshe Cleveland said, “He didn’t just say the ani ma’amins; he was the ani ma’amins. He learned them and lived them.”
As a little girl, I loved waking up on Shabbos mornings to the sound of my father’s voice learning. As an adult I am really able to appreciate all the time he spent learning, especially the mishnayos he learned to make a siyum in time for my brother Chesky’s yahrtzeit.
As a little girl, I marveled at his kibbud av v’eim. When Zaydie called for him, he ran to pick up the phone, no matter how busy he was. As an adult I realize I never knew the true extent of his kibbud av v’eim. I only found out after his petirah how he drove Zaydie each morning to shul, how he decided whether the weather was good enough for him to go out or if he should encourage him to daven at home, and how he always showed up at his house on Friday afternoon to make sure everything was ready for Shabbos.
As a young child I didn’t appreciate how he always wanted us home for Shabbos seudos and would be upset if we ate at a friend’s house. As an adult I realize how lucky we are to have had such a strong, loving relationship.
As a young girl I didn’t appreciate the stability in our home. B”H, I had two parents and siblings. This meant we were a normal family. As an adult I can appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in a healthy home permeated with love.
As a young girl I didn’t know to be happy that my parents didn’t fight with each other. As an adult I know how fortunate I am to have had parents who had shalom bayis and always displayed concern for one another.
As a young kallah, I thought it only natural for my father to accept my chassan as his son. As a married woman I understand how lucky we are that each son-in-law became a son and that they in turn looked at my father like another father. He never judged and always accepted each person despite his/her shortcomings. Maybe that is the reason he stayed so close to his children. Maybe that is why to so many people he was a favorite uncle, and why so many people gravitated to our house.
As a teenager I knew there was no way to understand my father’s pain at losing his only son. As a mother, I realize I could never begin to understand the searing pain that he experienced.
However, I think I was able to appreciate how he took such a painful experience and grew from it. He asked, he learned and he changed. Many people mentioned at the shivah that they remembered my father’s hesped for Chesky. They remembered how he took something so painful, and through his tears he was mechazeik and continued to be mechazeik his family for the next eleven years. Our family knew of the many different nisyanos that came his way. Our family also saw his pain and fear. But our family saw how he grew closer and closer to Hashem. It was like climbing a ladder. He started off on one of the lower rungs and climbed and climbed one step at a time, until he was on the highest step – so, so close to Hashem.
He didn’t bury his pain. He faced it, he grabbed it and he became better from it. Each Succos we saw his hurt as he relived Chesky’s last Succos, two weeks before he was niftar. But despite his pain he made coming home so enjoyable and fun. We laughed at his predictability. We rolled our eyes at his corny jokes, and we groaned at his idiosyncrasies, such as comments about the garbage can that filled up too quickly.
The children coined the name “Funny Zaydie” as soon as they learned how to talk. They called him this because that is what he was to them. He joked with them, he played with them and he laughed with them. Funny Zaydie had a place in their hearts that no other Zaidy can have.
On the other hand, we knew whom to call when we were down and in need of chizuk. We reached out to our father who had a depth to him that not many could match. With wisdom that only life’s experience can bring, my father was able to encourage us and countless others.
Before the levayah my husband asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted him to say in his speech. I responded, “Everyone knows my father as someone who is funny and always had a joke. But he was such an anav. Tell the world who he really was. Tell everyone about his unwavering trust through so many hardships because they don’t know.”
But I see how wrong I was!
The deep void of losing this special person is felt by so many people. Nephews we never knew he had a relationship with. Brothers and sisters-in-law who were so different from him. And friends who couldn’t walk into the house without crying. All these testify to the fact that many people did realize his tochen. Yes, wherever he went he brought laughter.
Yet, people realized he wasn’t just a man who loved a good piece of cake and a good joke. He was a man who always aspired to be more. People realized that his davening took longer than most because he really had the connection that we all crave. People realized that they could ask him for money from the Zichron Tzedakah Fund that was set up l’iluy nishmas my brother because he would help out quietly and discreetly. People realized that they could do business with him without any contracts because honesty would always come first. Yes, friends and relatives all over knew him and realized who he was. And the pain of losing him is so strong and so deep.
When my son Yecheskil was born, it brought some nechamah to my father for the loss of his son. Right from the beginning, my father introduced him to Chesky’s tefillin and Chesky’s bike. He talked to him about the day that he would be old enough to inherit Chesky’s prized possessions. But my father wasn’t here anymore to give my son his only son’s tefillin. He wouldn’t be there for any grandson’s bar mitzvah.
We always enjoyed a close relationship with my grandparents, and of course I thought our children were going to enjoy that type of relationship with my parents – forever. But during shivah, Yecheskil, then a third grader, started learning mishnayos, and he couldn’t share the news with his Zaydie. Moishy and Dovy had just started getting to really know their Zaydie over the Pesach that had just passed, and now that relationship is over – forever.
People trying to be menachem us said, “At least you have good memories to hold onto.” But I wanted to shake them. Didn’t they realize my father is too young to be a memory?! We – his children – were too young to be without a father and Mommy was too young to be a widow. Our children were babies. He couldn’t just be a memory. We needed him to be here as a proud father and grandfather.
No, we determined that he will not just be a memory to us. He kept Chesky alive for us in our hearts and our minds, and we will always keep my father alive in our hearts and minds. We talk about him, share his jokes and his divrei Torah. We comment on what he liked and disliked. We bring him into our homes and families’ lives by saying what Zaydie would have said and done.
As we talk more and more about my father, my children will get to know who Zaydie was. He was an easygoing person who was so, so close to Hashem. He was a tzaddik and someone to emulate for all posterity.
And as painful as this is for us, we must do what my father would have done. We have to take the pain and grow from it. We have to grab this hurt and become closer to Hashem from it. It seems almost impossible. But we have my father’s actions to lead us, and we will try to follow.

Roundtable Night

A while back, my daughter’s school had a roundtable discussion with the mothers. There was a panel of teachers, and each teacher had a turn to answer a submitted question. The answers sparked a lot of back and forth between the mothers and the teachers.
I looked around, and I saw realness. I heard sincerity. I felt earnestness. Regardless of our differences we all want the same thing. To raise our children to be ehrliche, ovdei Hashem. And oftentimes we feel confused about how to reach this goal.
Thinking about this, the word mesorah came to mind. We each have our own mesorah from our parents and grandparents that we want to hand down to our children. I have my own personal mesorah, just as each mother sitting in that room has hers.
It might be from a Bubby, Babbi, Oma or Grandma. But all of us mothers are connected by the desire to pass down our personal mesorahs. We might come to a roundtable event, call a teacher or seek out the advice of a rav to guide us. But we mothers have the power. Through actions more than words we can help our children be the best they can possibly be. That night as I looked around I realized our capabilities and our desires to continue to pass down what we have from our ancestors.
Which brings me to my own grandmother.
Recently my grandmother was niftar. Following her petirah, I was flooded with childhood memories. I remember going to her house for yamim tovim and spending time with all the cousins. I can picture her peeling apples on chol hamoed Pesach, giving my mother a list for the grocery store and putting on her tasteful jewelry on a yom-tov morning.
I can feel the excitement when we knew my grandparents were coming, loaded up with gifts for a two-week visit. I can see them sitting at our table eating supper and them taking their daily walks. I can picture my grandmother making her Hungarian gefilte fish in my mother’s kitchen and baking her heavenly kokosh cake.
My grandmother was very quiet. She kept to herself, always a little bit on the sidelines. Perhaps her quiet nature and unobtrusive way of getting things done speaks louder than any words.
After her petirah I turned to my aunts and uncle and asked them to tell me more about my Babbi. She was eighteen years old, the youngest of ten children, when the Nazis stormed her village and deported her to Auschwitz. She lost her father, stepmother, six siblings, six sisters- and brothers-in-law and many nieces and nephews. While two of her remaining siblings went to live in Eretz Yisrael, she decided to follow her older sister to America. And so this quiet woman came to a new country, leaving behind what was once familiar and had been shattered.
She came to this strange country after growing up in a small shtetl on a farm. Her father was a tremendous talmid chacham and a Belzer chassid who ardently followed the Rebbe and spent the Yomim Nora’im with him.
My grandfather, on the other hand, was from Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a more cultured, bustling city. He was an Oberlander, with very different minhagim from the Chassidim.
Before the war a shidduch with a Hungarian farm girl would have been laughable.
But he also came to America after losing his whole family in the war. He had harrowing experiences and was ready to rebuild. I don’t know who their shadchan was, but together they were ready to start rebuilding.
Coming as they were from two totally different backgrounds, one would have thought they would disagree over minhagim, each wanting to continue what they had learned from their own parents. But my grandmother was 100% mevater. As far as anyone knows (aside from not eating gebrokts), she never once said, “But my father, a tremendous talmid chacham, did it this way.” She knew that to have shalom she would need to accept her new husband’s ways. And she did.
I think it is safe to say that vatranus was what defined her. She was happy to give anything to anyone. She just needed to know that those around her were content. Even as she lay on her deathbed, she worried about each person who came in. Are they hungry? Do they have a place to sleep? She couldn’t relax until she knew that her guests were well taken care of.
The lessons we learned from her are precious. She taught us how to find our inner strength and to carry on despite the struggles we might have. She taught us how to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. She taught us to quietly get things done, to make sure everyone feels good and not to make problems where none exist. She taught us about being machsihiv Torah. She would never stop or disturb my grandfather from learning. Whatever was going on could always wait until Zayde was finished.
As I mentioned, Babbi stayed on the sidelines. We knew where we could find her, but she didn’t need to be noticed. I always wanted to know more about her. What was her life like growing up in the shtetl? What were her war experiences? How did she come to America? What was it like to get married with the only family in attendance at her wedding her older sister? But she wasn’t a talker. It was hard to get her to share. And besides, there was always next time to ask.
There is no next time anymore. Babbi left this world and with her went all her memories and all her experiences. But my dignified Babbi gave over so much to us. Not with words but through actions.
It’s her actions that left indelible impressions on her progeny.
I saw this from my mother, her daughter. My mother experienced so much suffering. But she was always ready to continue onward. She never let herself get sucked into self-pity. She never let her suffering stop her from being there for others, and she appreciated the positive moments amidst the suffering.
All this is part of my mesorah, and I want to pass it down. The mother sitting next to me that night might have learned other things from her parents and grandparents. But we all have similar goals: to pass down to our children what our ancestors held dear.


Do You Know Who You Are?

Do you remember that girl in your class who was really pretty, whose hair was always perfect? Did you compare yourself to her and feel ugly? How about the girl who always had a witty response? Did being around her make you feel as if you were just so dull?  Do you still find yourself thinking like that? Does your super-clean sister-in-law make you feel like an incompetent housekeeper or your stay-at-home neighbor make you feel like an incompetent mother? Do you ever feel that you are boring, that you always mess things up, that you’re not so smart or talented or just a complete failure?
Guess what? You are normal. Probably many of the people you think are better than you look at others and also feel inferior in some way. It’s almost as if this is a mandatory qualification for being a woman.
I know a tenth grader who is on top of her class academically. She has a wonderful personality and lots of friends, and her middos are extolled by many of her teachers. Yet when I asked her why a teen who has everything going for her would have low self-esteem, she looked at me as if I was crazy and answered, “Isn’t it obvious why?”
Low self-esteem doesn’t stay behind in a classroom. If it isn’t worked on, it follows us straight into the workforce, marriage and motherhood.  But no matter our stage in life, it’s never too late to work on improving the way we feel about ourselves.
In פרקי אבות, פרק ב: משנה ו, it says, “.ולא הבישן לומד” What does this mean? One can’t learn because of embarrassment? Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski writes that if a person has a question in learning but won’t ask because he feels that he should know it, or he must not be smart because no one else has this question, then he loses out on very important learning opportunities. How can a person learn if he always feels embarrassed? This is not a good embarrassment, nor is it humbleness. It comes from feeling bad about one’s self and the repercussions are not positive.
With these kinds of feelings it is hard to achieve anything. How can you accomplish if you always feel that if your ideas had merit someone else would have come up with them or that you’re just not capable of carrying them out? Nowhere in the Torah does it say that you should feel incompetent or unqualified. And as the Mishnah says, your shame will stop you from understanding, learning and accomplishing.
There is one kind of embarrassment that is praiseworthy. This comes from anivus, true humbleness, like Moshe Rabbeinu displayed. We all know that Moshe Rabbeinu was an ענו מכל אדם. Yet, Moshe was the leader of Klal Yisrael. He knew his strengths and used them for עבודת השם.
We are all mirrors reflecting tiny pieces of Hashem’s various middos. Therefore, we must be careful to acknowledge when a talent exists within us. It is not egotistical to know that you are a great organizer, a wonderful listener, a talented party planner or a very patient, loving mother. Rather, realize that you are a reflection of Hashem’s attributes. When we can acknowledge that the strengths we have are from Hashem and we are ready to use them for our own growth or for the sake of those around us, then we are acting in a G-dly way. This is a positive kind of “embarrassment.”
So let’s say you are the typical mother and wife fighting those nasty voices in your head telling you that you aren’t good, that you are inferior to others. You don’t know how to handle this child’s issue. You aren’t sure that you are showing enough support to your husband. And maybe in general you are doing something wrong because your children almost never show responsibility. What are practical applications to help you like yourself?
You can know that like every living person, you are perfectly imperfect. Your flaws were given to you by Hashem, Who wrapped them all up together in a box for your life’s journey. (You can imagine what color your box is, the size of the box and whether it has a bow or not.)
Accept your limitations – they are from Hashem. But don’t become complacent about them. Work on them with Hashem. Ask Him to help you make changes to turn your negatives into positives. And don’t forget to recognize your strengths. Find them. Remind yourself every day about the qualities that are specific to you.
Talk back to your negative voices. You can tell them, “Listen here, Voice, I know you are trying to making me feel bad about my flaws. But guess what?  Everyone has flaws. I also have strengths. That’s what I am trying to focus on. So you can keep telling me that I am not good enough, but I will keep telling you about all my strong points.”
Consider the following quote: “It’s not what you are that is holding you back, but rather, what you think you are not.”
Learn what you are so that you can use your kochos fully.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.

A Mother’s Love


Oftentimes, I wish I could think of just the right word; sometimes it seems to be on the tip of my tongue, but instead I stammer and stutter my way through my thought, hoping that I am getting my point across in some way.

I had such an experience with a friend who doesn’t have a very good relationship with her mother. In addition, her mother is not frum, which probably aggravates the situation even more. I was telling her how I wanted my mother’s opinion on something. I obviously couldn’t get it from my mother, so I got it from a friend instead. But really, I was longing for my mother’s input. She couldn’t understand what I needed my mother for. What was it that my mother could have offered me that friends and family couldn’t?  I tried to explain what the relationship with my mother was like. I tried to explain the connection that we had. But she couldn’t get it. I stuttered and stumbled and groped and grappled for the right words to explain the unexplainable.

It then became a mission. I felt I must get that point across. What is a mother’s love? How strong can a mother-daughter connection be? The feelings are so strong. The words must be out there somewhere. But I couldn’t find them.

I didn’t give up. At the risk of the friends in my group chat thinking I had really gone nuts, I sent out a text asking if anyone could define a mother’s love. The answers weren’t long in coming: unconditional, a natural connection, love earned just because of being born, irreplaceable, love without strings attached.

Maybe it’s all true. But it is also all cliché. And I needed to explain the connection I had with my mother in real words. I needed to define that indefinable love.

And so I turned it around. I asked myself how I would describe the love I have for my children.  The question almost took my breath away. The love is so deep that my heart starts to hurt. I want to protect and shield them from all pain. I just want everything to be perfect for them.

I also felt confused thinking about the question because I realized that I want perfection for them in ways that don’t even make sense. I want to hug them so tightly and never let go, but I want to teach them independence. I want to make all the right choices for them, but I want to teach them to make their own responsible decisions. I want to defend them fiercely, but I want to teach them to take responsibility. I want to teach them the fine line between self-respect and anivus. I want to teach them to care for others but not to be stepped upon. I want to nurture them with love and encourage them with positivity. I want to cultivate our values and foster our connection. My love is so absolute that it transcends logic.

I know that is how my mother felt toward me.

That “transcending-logic love” made her care about all the small things in my life that no one else would care about. It made her take interest in me and my family in areas that no one else would have interest in. The love made the unimportant important to her. It made the insignificant news significant to her.

And the best friend and the closest aunt can’t replace that.

I had a gift that my friend isn’t fortunate enough to have. It is the gift of real maternal affection. Now, how can I describe this indescribable gift? How can I explain my unexplainable loss?

I went online and searched for that right word. I googled definitions but couldn’t find anything. After a long while I found a word that tugged at me. The word is ineffable. The definition is indescribableinexpressible, beyond words, beyond description, begging description.

I have been searching and searching for that perfect word – for that word that can define what I had with my mother. And I found it!  But I have come full circle. Because the word ineffable has taught me that I will not find that right word. It doesn’t exist. And simply said, that is what I had with my mother. Something that is indescribable.

Perhaps my friend has a better vocabulary than me. Maybe she is familiar with this word. But if not, I will teach it to her.

I can tell her that that the reason I wanted my mother’s opinion is because of our ineffable relationship. It was something that I can never put into words. And that is the person whose opinion has the most value to me. I know I am fortunate that this was our relationship.

But I miss it.

Holding on to the Memories: My Scrapbooking Journey


I have been told that I am a very emotionally rich person. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But I certainly did feel overwhelmed with many emotions after my parents died. There was so much longing, so much wishing for what once was – all that emotion with no place to put it.

I wanted to keep everything as it used to be. I wanted to hold on to the past so tightly that it would never leave me, to create a bubble for myself and my memories.

It was actually my sister who got me into scrapbooking after she was given the idea by a mentor. I was always hearing about the tools and supplies she was buying. And then one day I said, “Why don’t I do this too?”

I have found this new outlet to be very therapeutic. It has allowed me to take my roiling emotions and put them in order. I can put my feelings into these pages and grab onto the memories.

In recalling the past, I realized that there are different kinds of memories: there are the actual pictures in my mind of past events, and there are also “feeling memories.” For example, smelling a particular food or hearing a specific phrase can engender strong feelings, and when I have these feelings, sometimes I like to just sit and experience them.

Creating a scrapbook has prompted a lot of the feeling memories. Sometimes I feel sadness or longing. I am documenting a world that is no more. But creating the pages has helped me identify the emotions and put them in order. It has helped me enter the bubble I was yearning for, and afterward I am able to emerge and continue functioning.

Another valuable benefit of my scrapbook has been to allow me to share the memories with others. My children learned that the oldest grandchild coined the name Funny Zaydie for my father because he made people laugh. They can get a glimpse of our family birthday parties and the yamim tovim we spent together. Depending on my mood we can share what I’ve created and cry together or open it and laugh together.

One thing that I found really nice about scrapbooking is that there is no right way to do it. I enjoy writing, and I found that writing releases a lot of emotions and helps me put my thoughts in order. If you are more creative or artistic, you can narrate a full story with pictures and cut-outs.

If you like things to look just so, there are so many tools and materials you can use to create that perfect look. If you would you rather accomplish quickly without focusing on exactly how everything is placed, that’s okay too. After all, this is your bubble of memories.

Every craft store and even your local discount store (Target, Walmart, Amazing Savings) has loads of scrapbooking materials. I found it helpful to walk through the aisles and peruse the selection, which includes backgrounds, borders, stickers, lettering of all sorts, 3D applications and more. Sometimes seeing an item brought up a memory, and I knew it was just what I needed for my book. Then again, there are lots of materials you can find in your house: a piece of fabric or wrapping paper, a postcard or picture cut from a magazine, a ticket stub, etc.

Included here are some samples of what I’ve created.

Page number one was meant to be a more serious page. Learning, halachah and minhagim pesach-page-page-003were an integral part of who my father was. I therefore chose colors that would be appropriate to this tone. Although I didn’t use any real “wow” materials here, it conveys the memory of my father holding on to what was really important to him. It was easy to find pictures of the sefarim and shtender. I could have made it fancier by making a 3D shtender or even including a picture of my father standing behind it and learning. Another option would have been to color copy the cover of a sefer and shrink it to size. What I created here, however, is a simple page that is filled with strong memories.

pesach-page-page-004The second page describes one of my mother’s hobbies. It makes me smile. She enjoyed shopping, and I enjoyed shopping together with her. For this page I wasn’t aiming for the same tone as the one depicting my father’s learning. I therefore chose to do it in a brighter color to create a lighter feeling. When I look at it, I see my mother standing near the cashier, pulling out the right card. This is a page that gives me a pleasant feeling.

My parents, especially my father, was a real family man. He pesach-page-page-002took great pride in his children, and we felt this each yom tov. So for my third page I chose to focus on how my father performed bedikas chometz with the grandchildren. When I look at this page, I see and feel this special brand of family pride. The reference to cleaning is a nod to my mother’s involvement here. To make it more real and personal, I cut out a piece of an actual shmatte. Using matzah paper was an obvious choice. It makes the page so much more appealing with little extra effort.

So where should you start?

You can create pages arbitrarily, working on ideas as they come to you, or you can work systematically. For example, go through all the significant events of a single year, documenting each one on its own page. Create a spread for each yom tov, showing how your family celebrated it through the years. Create a page for each family chasunah. Or create pages by the season: a fall section might include the first day of school, Succos, raking leaves; a winter section might include Chanukah, snowstorms, family melave malkas; a spring section might include Pesach, planting flowers, mowing the lawn; a summer section might include family vacations, visiting day, family BBQs, etc. Perhaps your book might include a section showing the time before your parent was sick; the period during which your parent was ill; and a section showing family life or activities after your parent’s petirah.

Do you have any mementos from your parent? A scrapbook is the place to stick your mother’s favorite magnet or your father’s yarmulke. Any picture or item can be the springboard for a page. I actually did the credit-card page after I found my mother’s cards in her wallet. My mother’s essence wasn’t shopping like my father’s was learning, so it wasn’t until I found the credit cards that I thought of making this kind of page.

Above all, remember that this is your space. If you love the color orange, use it. Your best friend might not understand why you chose that color – that’s okay. Tap into your emotions and your memories.  Your sister might question your perception about something – that doesn’t matter because this is your safe place to release and experience your emotions.

Does this whole idea feel overwhelming to you? Then don’t make a scrapbook, make a scrap page. Choose something that is precious to you and create just one page surrounding it – you can’t go wrong.

Happy scrapbooking!